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India: Reactions to Slumdog Millionaire

If you have not heard about Slumdog Millionaire then you must have missed all the buzz and the word of mouth publicity the film has got over the past few weeks. This surprise “underdog” film that almost did not make it to the movie theaters has won 4 Golden Globe awards and 10 Oscar nominations. Made on a shoestring budget of $15 million by British director Danny Boyle the film is based on Q and A, a novel written by Indian diplomat Vikas Swarup. The film consists of new and unproven film stars except for a couple of well-known Indian stars like Anil Kapoor and Irfan Khan. The film (without giving away spoilers) is about Jamal, a poor, young man from the slums of Mumbai, who through a stroke of luck appears in the wildly popular TV game show “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.” What happens? Does he win or not?

Danny Boyle
Danny Boyle. Image by Flickr user stits and used under a creative commons license

The film was shot by a mix of British and Indian crew in Mumbai, India and released late last year in the US and Europe. Last week the film was released in India. While the film got fantastic write-ups and reviews in the US, the film has got mixed reviews in India. Unsurprisingly, the film's music track by AR Rahman has got a consistent thumbs-up in India. The reviews and feedback of Slumdog Millionarie cover a fascinating array of opinions. Perhaps, the one blog post that created a lot of buzz are the remarks of Indian superstar Amitabh Bachchan. A prolific blogger, Mr. Bachchan had this to say about the movie in one of his earlier posts:

“On blog, comments for the film ‘SlumDog Millionaire’ and the anger by some on its contents, prompt me to say the above. If SM projects India as Third World dirty under belly developing nation and causes pain and disgust among nationalists and patriots, let it be known that a murky under belly exists and thrives even in the most developed nations. Its just that the SM idea authored by an Indian and conceived and cinematically put together by a Westerner, gets creative Globe recognition. The other would perhaps not.”

Predictably, Mr. Bachchan's comments were subjected to intense scrutiny by the media and bloggers. Just Jo writes in his post You Have No Idea Sir jee that while he has not seen Slumdog Millionaire that the slums featured in the movie are a reality in Mumbai, India. He writes:

“And if you haven't noticed, Sirjee, Hollywood has time and again featured the bad and sad elements of their society in their movies. Going by your argument, after watching Hollywood movies the world should be thinking that America is a country that consists only of criminals, racists, rapists, pregnant teenagers, drug-peddlers, pedophiles etc etc. But is that the case? They used this wonderful medium of Cinema to fight against those evils, Sirjee. And you become angry when the same is done here. Oh, in the process, you were also angry at the legendary filmmaker Satyajit Ray too!”

Since that first post on Slumdog Millionaire Mr. Bachchan has written another post clarifying his statement and speaking to director Danny Boyle and Anil Kapoor, the actor.

Nandan Nilekani, co-founder and head of Infosys, India's largest IT services company has an very interesting post where he talks about how films in India are the “zeitgeist” of the generation. Nilekani draws a comparison between Indian movies of the 1970s and Slumdog Millionaire and notes the difference in the world views of the these two generations. He writes:

“The movie is at its heart, about aspiration, and about dreams coming true. This ‘common man’ Jamal, is not angry, like the Indian men of the 1970s. He is both hopeful and relentless, defiant and proud of his origins even as the people around him call him a ‘slumdog’. He knows better – that it doesn't matter where you come from, only where you are headed.”

But, what do the young Indians think about the film? Do they think it is a hopeful film about aspirations and dreams coming true? It appears that not every young Indian subscribes to the hopeful note in the film. PH of Desicritics writes that he did not find Slumdog Millionaire “engaging” and points out:

“Unlike his counterparts from the American South, Jamal never quite becomes the everyman's voice of his period in Indian history; we never hear him telling us other people's interesting stories from his vantage point as an ‘outsider’ …All this makes Slumdog a half-hearted, comme ci, comme ca endeavor that wants to both be a fairy-tale and capture urban poverty but falters on both counts.

PH concludes that:

“Slumdog, then, is at best an attempt to cook a saccharine dish in a bitter sauce.”

Meera Sinha, a young Indian American who is spending a year in India saw the film. She draws our attention to the reaction from from Mumbai slum dwellers, who have protested against the term “slumdog” to describe them. More importantly, Meera draws our attention to the debate the movie has generated and writes:

“This kind of healthy critique of popular culture will help us understand our relationship to the media and its representations of us.”

Whether people like the movie or not, the fact is that Slumdog Millionaire has started a conversation in India about poverty, entrepreneurship and Indian films. Hopefully that conversation will yield results.

Thumbnail images by Flickr users Richliu & dq, used under creative commons license.

51 comments

  • Nice coverage of reactions. I think one of the best reactions was from Desipundit http://www.desipundit.com/baradwajrangan/2009/01/24/fiction-not-fact/

    Instead of just taking it as a film, people have tried to make it sound like the next best thing after those coffee jackets. That is one of the reasons why it has generated strong reactions in India some thinking it film mocks India’s poverty, the right wing has its own take. But you have summed it up well, it has started a conversation in India, I just am not sure if it is about poverty.

  • KP

    It’s a shame that we even pretend to rejoice the nomination and accolades for the movie. What good does this do to slum dwellers? Had it not been a British movie directed by a white man, will it ever get noticed? Why did the owners of big media world (Oscars and SAG) notice Aamir? Aamir has more global connotations due to the terrorism and in fact it would have done some good to change a few people’s opinion on various perspectives about the issue? Why not Black Friday? Black Friday was a marvel, a jewel in the crown, the best movie ever made on faith based terrorism. Western world just loves to see poor countries pain and sorrow for their pseudo pleasure. If such movies can do something to bring a slightest changes in one person’ life I would be happy to clap but alas it makes me ashamed, embarrassed, not because I am hypocrite but simply because I do not like people looking at that aspect of my society which is there as a blatant truth but there are so many other things to talk about rather than a kid jumping into the shit to get an autograph. Totally disgusting and unwarranted for the movie. God, please give some sense to airheads like Mr. Boyle and sense to assholes like Anil Kapoor and other jokers doing bhangra on making country ashamed.
    KP

    • Jyotee luchmun

      Hi babe I think you miss the point.Poverty is not only in india but all around the world. kids get abuse everyday even in there own home. Even in the big city of london and america people are living on the streets. knifes crimes and gun crimes is all over the UK. We should be gradeful that we have seem the real world, rich does not richess. Knowlege is richess.

  • Tariq Shah

    The movie was’nt great, it was just another poverty stricken, boy meets girl bollywood movie. The only reason its getting so much acclain is because of the hype caused because its the first Bollywood movie made by a westerner.

    Frankly the hero looks like a little school boy, could barely act and the heroine looked like she would not even look at him in real life.

  • anu

    So much noise for nothing!
    What is most interesting and often missed out is the tight presentation of the movie. The interspersing of questions with experiences neatly juxtaposed. SD is certainly worth watching for the presentation of the content. While one can justifiably feel that recognition has come due to a British production, we should grow up enough to accept good art for what it is not who it is. One can quote enough and more counter examples where when recognition was given, we had many other things to say….

  • Malini

    Hello,

    We are making fun of ourself in the eyes of the World who appreciated a great film and did not care for the display of poverty in India. They have their own movies displaying poverty, conspiracies, drug abuse and as the audience is educated and matured they look at it like a film not like ‘oh my god NY is shown with drug abused black men as if all are drug abused’ as shown in American gangster or A father and son living in shambles in ‘The persuit of happiness’ where the father tries hard in all odds to find happiness for his son. People in LA did not scream ..’ohh they showed the homeless people and tried to malign the state of homeless people in LA’. Stop making fun of ourselves. As now India is appearing like a country full of some fanatic thinkers to the world including Amitabh who comments like ‘Grapes are sour’ With this I guess Amitabh made a big mistake and his era seems to be over…He is not who appreciate true talent or Art. It is projecting the poor taste we have to common people in Western world as all who liked the movie liked the story the triumph a slum kid does. If anyone is media crazy by talking against they make news in whole world ..the way they were displaying candles in front of Taj mahal hotel, as all international channels were filming and did not care to go to VT station. With your comments and half hearted approach you are being watched and everyone is surprised to see the petty thinking we are having of hiding the truth. Are we displaying Culture of India? or Hypocracy on which we are living since ages, hiding reality?

  • it was a good movie but the name is too offensive .!!

  • shame on this movie ..

  • Slumdog Millionaire” has it all, and I am sorely tempted to give it a 10/10

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